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Born: Sunday 3 May 1925, Paris, France
Died: Thursday 18 December 2008, Reims, France (aged 83)
Stylish centre-half Robert Jonquet was one of the stars of the great Stade de Reims side who won a multitude of major domestic honours during the 1950s and were one of the leading sides in the early years of the European Cup. Captain of France for several years, he also led his country through to the semi-finals of the 1958 World Cup in Sweden where he famously played on despite suffering a broken leg.
Jonquet was born in Paris on 3 May 1925 and spent his early years in the city's southern suburbs. He was a good all-round athlete and excelled in athletics as well as football. During his youth he played for Le Plessis-Robinson and SS Voltaire before moving with his family at Reims at the age of 17. Local side Stade de Reims quickly signed him up and Jonquet spent the remainder of the war years in the club's youth setup before moving into the senior side when competitive football resumed in 1945.
Although he possessed the stength in tackles and and in the air that was vital to play in that position, it quickly became apparent that Jonquet's style of play was not that of a typical centre-half. He was one of the first of a new breed of elegant and skilful defenders, a player who having broken up an attack was able to control the ball, look around and find a team-mate rather than just clearing long upfield. An intelligent defender with excellent reading of the game, Jonquet also possessed far better ball control than many of his contemporaries.
He was almost immediately an ever present fixture in the Stade de Reims defence, as the club regularly challenged for the league title. Reims narrowly missed out on the championship in 1948 after a tight three-way battle with Marseille and Lille but with Jonquet at the heart of the team they had by far the best defensive record in the league. Those performances earned him international recognition, making his debut in a 3-1 defeat to Italy in April 1948.
1948-49 brought another tight race with Lille, but this time Reims came out on top by a single point to earn the first major honour of Jonquet's career. Further success followed a year later with a 2-0 win over Racing Club de Paris in the French Cup final, but there was disappointment at international level. Having failed to qualify for the 1950 World Cup, France were offered a place after several teams withdrew but put off by travel costs, eventually declined. Jonquet would have to wait until 1954 to appear in the World Cup, but did famously have an excellent game in a 2-2 draw with England in 1951 which earned him the nickname 'Hero of Highbury'.
After a couple of fourth place finishes, Jonquet was ever-present for Reims as they reclaimed the league title in 1953, before winning the short-lived international Latin Cup tournament with wins over Valencia and AC Milan. Strong defence remained one of the foundations of that team as again they had comfortably the best defensive record in the league. The attempt to defend the title ended in the narrowest of failures in 1954, as Lille edged home by a single point, but that summer Jonquet finally got his chance to play in the World Cup.
One of two seeds in their first round group, France were expected to reach the knockout stages but under Jonquet's captaincy, suffered a surprise 1-0 defeat to Yugoslavia in their first match. Jonquet did not appear in the second game against Mexico, which France won 3-2 but to no avail as they crashed out in the group stage. That disappointment was eased the following season as Reims claimed the third league title of Jonquet's career, a success which game them the opportunity to be one of the pioneers of European club competition.
As French champions, Reims took part in the first ever European Cup in 1955-56. Winning through to the final, they would face Real Madrid, the team who had beaten them in the final of the Latin Cup the previous summer. They took a 2-0 lead and after Real levelled, edged in front again to leave Jonquet just 25 minutes away from being the first captain to lift the European Cup. However, Real turned the match around late on to win 4-3 and leave Reims as runners-up.
Reims had only been able to finish mid-table in the defence of their title in 1955-56, but two years later Jonquet captained them to a fourth league title in ten years. A 3-1 cup final win over Nîmes clinched the double and on the back of that success he captained his country into the 1958 World Cup finals in Sweden. Despite losing again to Yugoslavia, France won their first round group before a 4-0 win over Northern Ireland set up a semi-final with Brazil. With that match poised at 1-1, disaster struck for Jonquet.
Just past the half hour, he was badly injured in a challenge with Vavá and with no substitutes allowed, was forced to spent the rest of the match limping up and down the wing. Without Jonquet to marshal the French defence, a hat-trick from a young Pelé gave Brazil a 5-2 win and France went on to finish fourth. Jonquet, who had needed a painkilling injection to carry on in the match, was subsequently diagnosed with a double fracture of the leg.
Returned to full fitness, Jonquet appeared in a second European Cup final in 1959 but was again denied the chance to lift the trophy as Reims were once more denied by Real Madrid, this time losing 2-0. In 1960 Jonquet won the fifth and final league title of his career as Reims finished a full seven points clear of Nîmes at the top of the table. Having helped France to the final four of the inaugural European Championship, Jonquet missed the 5-4 semi-final defeat to Yugoslavia but did appear in the loss to Czechoslovakia in the third place play-off, the last of his 58 caps.
Later that summer, he left the club after making 502 league appearances in 15 years, moving to second tier side RC Strasbourg. In his first season with Strasbourg, Jonquet helped the club win promotion to the top flight with a fourth place finish. By that time aged 36, he was named manager early in the 1961-62 season with Strasbourg struggling and finally brought an end to his playing career in the summer of 1962, aged 37. Jonquet remained at Strasbourg until 1964, when he was named manager of Reims.
Reims had just been relegated but in 1966 Jonquet led them back to the top division as Division 2 champions. Unfortunately, they went straight back down in 1967 and Jonquet left the club shortly afterwards. Through the 1970s he managed a succession of lower division clubs, before a brief return to Reims as joint manager in 1980-81. After retiring, Jonquet developed an increasing dislike of the money in modern day football compared to the era in which he played. He always remained close to his old club however, spending the rest of life living in Reims. Following a long illness, he died on 18 December 2008 at the age of 83.
References (all accessed 11 March 2012):
- Published on Sunday, 11 March 2012 22:33